Nationally, the names Baffert, Pletcher, and Lukas are some of the most recognizable in the sport. But in West Virginia, the name Casey holds just as much cachet in racing circles.
James W. Casey, or Jim to those who know him, is 87 years old and still actively trains horses in Charles Town, W.V. For years he was a schoolteacher, as he and his late wife Eleanor managed their racing operation. They became two of the most successful breeders in state history and the family business continues to thrive at Taylor Mountain Farm, which they purchased in 2000 (currently managed by their son).
Casey has won more than a thousand races as a trainer, including 30 victories in the West Virginia Breeders Classics (WVBC) – far and away the most for any trainer in the three-decade-long history of the WVBC. He won the $500,000 WVBC Classic three times with Russell Road, and most recently won the highlight race of the WVBC with Charitable Annuity in 2015.
Founded by NFL Hall of Famer Sam Huff and Carol Holden, the WVBC is restricted to horses bred or sired in West Virginia. This year’s WVBC will be held at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races on Oct. 14. It’ll feature nine stakes races with purses totaling $1 million.
To add to the excitement leading up to the WVBC, Casey is participating in a new contest organized by Holden, allowing fans to come up with a name for one of Casey’s young horses. The horse is a son of third-place 2008 Kentucky Derby runner Denis of Cork. You can read more about the horse and its pedigree here.
The winner of the 2017 WVBC “Name That Horse” Contest will get a VIP experience at this year’s main event in October. Entries will remain open until next Friday, Sept. 15.
We spoke to Casey about the contest, horse names, and briefly reflected what the WVBC means to racing, breeders, and all participants in the sport in the West Virginia.
Dan Tordjman: Tell us about how you got involved with the “Name That Foal” contest and how excited you are about participating?
James Casey: [Carol Holden] told me this was something she wanted to do. So, I tried to pick a good horse [for the contest], one of my better horses. I liked the breeding on this one. Anything that promotes horses and makes people get an interest in racing, I like.
DT: You mentioned the breeding on this horse. We know that he’s a son of Denis of Cork, who is one of your stallions at Taylor Mountain Farm. What can you tell us about him?
JC: Denis of Cork was a pretty decent racehorse. He was third in the Kentucky Derby — he came from last and then finished third. When I first got him, he had bred some horses pretty good but when he bred for me, I didn’t get that much from him the first couple of years. But here lately, his horses have been running well. In the West Virginia Breeders Classics, his horses have won three of them. So, he’s come on strong.
DT: You’ve got plenty of stallions, mares and foals that have come through your farm over the years. What goes into naming the naming of some of your foals?
JC: You know, I never really named any of them. My wife (Eleanor, who passed away in 2005), that was her favorite thing — and she was really good at naming horses. She would get out her dictionary and spend a lot of time on them. The ones I’ve named have been named after ones that have run before, or I’ve named after the towns around where I’ve lived. But my wife was the expert at it.
DT: What were some of your favorite names that your wife came up with over the years?
JC: Of the horses that ran good, I had one called Proud John. The stallion’s name was Right Proud and my youngest son was John. The horse won a stakes race back when money was money (1969 Tri-State Futurity). I was teaching school, making $5,000. Then, Proud John won $40,000 for me. So, that was one of my favorites. I can’t think of all them but my wife was pretty clever coming up with all of the names.
DT: Since this contest is being run in conjunction with the WVBC — and the winner will receive a VIP experience at this year’s WVBC on Oct. 14 — what does the WVBC mean to you?
JC: The Breeders Classics has been a big help to all of the horsemen because if you do halfway decent that day, it’s going to get you ahead a little bit. That’s been a big factor for Charles Town.
DT: Well, you’ve had plenty of luck in the WVBC. This foal naming seems like a pretty fun way to give back to the fans. You don’t seem to mind the fact that allowing them to participate in one of the most fun processes in racing, also happens to take a little creative work off your plate.
JC: I like that. They can name all of them for me if they’d like. As long as the name is decent. I’ve gotta name about 20-25 a year. It takes a little time and a little thought. If they want to name them for me, that’s fine.